First, I recommend you read/listen to Carl Jung’s work titled “Approaching the Unconscious” and then his following work “Man and His Symbols.” Carl Jung has studied this subject in far greater detail than I could ever hope to cover today, and after you read them you may even find that you don’t need to read this post at all!
Second, if you’ve come back after reading his work, I would like to remind you that dream interpretation is still very new and it relies on a highly intuitive process that has little (if no) scientific basis whatsoever. We cannot exactly explain how or why dreams give us the pockets of meaning that they do, but we can definitely talk about what dreams are, why dreams are important, what they try to tell us, and how we can receive these pockets of meaning for ourselves.
What Are Dreams Exactly?
It seems as if the best modern-day answer for this question is something to the extent of, “a series of images that are created by the mind” or any kind of variant thereof. However, I’ve observed dreams to be far more than this, and I will attempt to answer the question as best as I possibly can:
Dreams are an enjoyable, unpleasant, or neutral environment in which something must be learned from. They’re messages from yourself to yourself about something you need to attend to in your waking life, and what you remember from each dream is more important than what you don’t remember.
The reason for this definition is because of my personal experiences of having a dream, interpreting it for myself, realizing what I need to realize, and then learning a lesson that I can consciously integrate throughout the day. I haven’t found dreams to be neither random phenomena nor synchronized with waking life, but are phenomena that express their ‘lessons to be learned’ through symbolic representation, and that applying the lessons hidden within are the sole purpose of every dream that’s existed, ever. I will carry this realization through the entirety of this post.
Why shouldn’t we ignore our dreams and focus on our daily, waking lives? Why can’t we ignore the lessons they’re trying to teach and carry on with what we’re already preoccupied with?
Ignoring the subconscious (aka the part of you that produces the dream and is the dream itself) will only make it scream louder. If screaming doesn’t work then it will control your life from the inside out until you consciously acknowledge the (usually unpleasant) results that it (you) produce(s). Sounds scary, right?
Well, the reality is almost every American alive right now is primarily controlled by their (either repressed or unrealized) subconscious fragments, and that they (the subconscious processes controlling the people) will not stop until they become realized in one way or another.
We get to be this way, of course, because we grow up in a society that doesn’t value the imagination, or intuitive knowledge (any knowledge?), or dreams, or expression of self. Since dreams are experiences meant to inform us of (first personal, then collective) neuroticism then the reason dreams exist is because we stand in the way of our own (and even worse, each-other’s) nature enough to become confused, disoriented, and unsure of “the meaning of life.”
But we don’t pay any mind to this so of course more dreams appear and help guide us along the way, but we continue to ignore them as we become more neurotic and unstable, and the cycle can continue indefinitely.
This is why it’s important to listen to the messages your dreams give you and learn as much as you can from them (you). We’re living in a society that doesn’t value mental health, but we as individuals can begin to listen to ourselves and heal from our own personal trauma and then begin to experience and heal the collective trauma. These disturbances, of course, are most likely to be discovered when dreaming and/or day-dreaming. If we do this then we are one step closer to a fulfilled life and a society that truly values health as it is.
How Can We Learn From Our Dreams?
If we read Man and His Symbols we’ll know that each and every part of a dream is a symbolic representation of a part of the self (yourself). Jung was able to say that these symbols represent different “archetypes,” of which cannot be seen, heard, felt, or touched, even after knowing which archetype is represented by each symbol.
I want to simplify it a little bit by adding that what you remember to ask yourself about the dream is what matters the most, since losing memory of a part of a dream (or even an entire dream) is a sign that you’ve either completely ignored it or processed it in its entirety.
Since what we remember about our dream is important the question arises, “Is the entire dream important despite our emphasis on the parts of it that are important?” The answer is yes; after all, you’re having the dream, and simply losing memory of it does not necessarily mean that the energy behind the dream has disappeared or even become less important. This is why it’s important to remember as much as we can about every dream – the environment it took place in, the people that were in it, any object that felt like it had significance, etc etc.
When we remember a dream it’s important to ask questions about it in our waking lives. If a person/environment/object feels important then you will answer yourself immediately, and when you put all of the answers together you will have one, integrated, meaningful realization that will probably help you feel amazing for the rest of the day, and will certainly be one more step towards an integrated self. I’d like to give an example of a dream I had the other night that held some significance for myself so that I can show you what I mean.
It was nighttime. I was in a very small, swampy area with trees and brush surrounding me on every side except my left side. On my left side was a small, unclimbable hill. There was a cage next to this hill and it held several kinds of animals only two of which I remember – a monkey and a snake. A mysterious man owned the cage and the animals within, and we met and spoke for a while before he disappeared into the brush. I was left alone with the animals, and I could only stare at them before I awoke with the strong urge to interpret the dream.
Every detail in this dream is important – I could have merely mentioned that I was in a swampland but I felt like I had to include the time of day, the brush surrounding me, and the hill that was on my left side. After asking myself the necessary questions I found that the nighttime represented calmness and tranquility, the brush represented a barrier to prevent my possible escape, and the hill represented the nostalgic feeling of climbing it just to see what’s on the other side. The reason it was on my left side was because the right side was beyond the brush and therefore meant doom and suffering.
The cage represents relief since it bars the animals in and prevents them from getting to me. The mysterious man represents a person who is highly evolved, wealthy, and out of reach to me, the common man. He owned the animals. The monkey and the snake represent parts of myself that can further be described as primal action in both the intellectual and physical parts of life, respectively.
Each piece of the dream has been individually interpreted, and now I must put it all together. The tranquility of the situation was a clear indication that the brush surrounding me wasn’t that big of a deal, and simply meant I had to stay there in order to learn something, which is a big step for me since I value freedom very strongly. The hill also aided in the setting of the scene since I enjoy the feeling of nostalgia described above. Since the cage represented relief, since the man who owned the animals was “out of reach,” and since the monkey and the snake both represent primal intellectual and physical action, the realization to be had here is that I’m relieved that another part of me is taking care of the primal urges so that I (the conscious self) don’t have to.
Of course the lesson to be learned is that I must integrate with this “caretaker” since he appeared separate from “myself” inside of my dream, and I must take care to consciously notice my primal urges when I’m living in my waking life as well.
Now I have my “duty” for the day and I’ll work at integrating the caretaker into myself. Of course, as a bonus, I get to feel indescribable relief throughout the entire day! Had I simply ignored the dream and gone about my day I would’ve also missed out on becoming more integrated and more developed as an individual, and the more developed and integrated you are the more peace you will experience throughout your life (I’ll explain this further in a future post).
It requires building trust with yourself and being brutally honest with what’s going on, but I can promise you that integrating the lessons learned from your dreams is very beneficial in the short term and the long run alike. I definitely recommend you start interpreting your own dreams as soon as possible so that you may realize yourself more and more every day. Have a good day!